Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Curious Case of the Prison Conversation

“You seem agitated, Watson,” said Sherlock Holmes, as he battered an old violin into submission with a horse-hair bow. “Come and sit down, old friend, and tell me what is the matter.”
I withdrew my head from the gas oven and flopped down heavily into one of the Georgian armchairs that adorned Holmes’ Baker Street apartment. “I can hide nothing from you, Holmes,” I stated wearily. “My mind has been puzzling over a conversation I heard some evenings ago and I must confess, its meaning has been driving me to distraction.”
Holmes flung the wailing fiddle out of the window and began pacing up and down. Then he began pacing from side to side. “Tell me all about it,” he exclaimed patiently. “I can’t keep this pacing up forever.”
“It was the other night,” I began. “I happened to be taking my evening constitution by the walls of the prison, when suddenly a young girl started calling.”
Holmes’ ears pricked up at this. “A young girl?” he repeated. “How old? Seven or eight?”
“More like twenty, old chap,” I replied. “She was evidently calling to someone inside the prison as there was nobody else around at the time.”
“How very singular,” Holmes ejaculated.
“How so, Holmes?”
“Well… in so far as it isn’t plural,” replied my friend impatiently. “But tell me, do you manage to remember anything of what she said?”
“Why certainly, Holmes, “I answered. “I took the trouble of writing it down in my notebook just as you have advised me.” Here I withdrew a vellum notebook from my breast pocket and began to read slowly.
“Michael,” I read. “They have taken you away.”
“Surely this Michael, being in prison, would be aware of this salient fact,” snapped Holmes. “Did this girl seem simple?”
“Not at all Holmes.”
“Then proceed. Did she say anything else?”
“She called out at the top of her voice that this Michael had stolen Trevellyan’s corn so the young might see the Mourne,” I answered after consulting my notebook.
“The young? The young what?”
“She didn’t say, Holmes.”
“Hmm,” replied the detective, stroking his angled chin and pacing diagonally across the lightly furnished room. “So, by calling this out at the top of her voice, she was alerting the prison service to the fact that this Michael had indeed carried out this act of larceny?”
“It appears so, Holmes. May I continue?”
“Pray do.”
“The next thing was, she bawled out that a prison ship was lying waiting on the kay,” I continued doubtfully.
Holmes head snapped up. “On the kay?” he asked. “Are you sure you heard this conversation correctly? It wasn’t a quay by any chance, for I happen to know that at this very minute a convict vessel is lying on the quay” – he stressed the word – “waiting to sail to Botany Bee.”
“Well, okay, it may have been a quay,” I conceded ruefully.
I was about to continue when the sound of feet came scurrying up the stairs and came to a halt outside of Holmes’ apartment, to be followed by several sharp raps on the door.
“Who can that be Holmes?” I asked in bewilderment.
“A woman, aged in her mid forties. She has obviously served in India for a considerable time. She has a tattoo of Victor Hugo on her left ankle and has a fondness for Lionel Ritchie, though she prefers to keep this latter fact from the public’s gaze.”
As I gasped in astonishment, Holmes strode to the door and swung it open.
“Pizza,” said a young boy. Holmes grunted and took the two boxes, flinging the Pepperoni at me in disgust.
“Anyway, Holmes,” I continued tactfully. “This girl then proceeded to shout out that the fields of Athenry lie very low and that she and the prison inmate had evidently spent some time together watching – how did she put it? – “small free birds” flying there.”
Holmes flicked the last of his peppers into the fireplace and ruminated this information. “So, she has a interest in the topographical contours of east Galway, yet her knowledge of ornithology is somewhat vague,” he murmured. “Yet why should she be imparting this to the man inside the prison?”
“Maybe it’s a code,” I offered.
Holmes jumped up and smacked me smartly on the back, causing a bit of crust to go shooting across the room and land on the piano.
“You have it, old friend!” he announced smartly. He strode to the bookcase and pulled out an old volume called “Rugby players of Connaught.” This he proceeded to open and flick through at great pace. “Tell me, Watson,” he asked. “This young lady didn’t happen to mention a sporting personality of yesteryear that she and the young man were intimately acquainted with?”
“Good Lord, Holmes,” I gasped in wonderment. “Her very next words were “Our love was on the wing.” How could you possibly know?”
Holmes read quickly from the journal. “Lionel Edgar Mentary. Rugby player of some note in the nineties. Played for Galwegians. Went into business with a young couple after they got the franchise for Merry Green Giant sweet corn for the West of Ireland. Currently under investigation by the fraud squad.” He closed the book triumphantly. “L. E. Mentary, by dear Watson.”
I doffed my cap to the great detective, despite the fact that I wasn’t wearing one. “That’s amazing, Holmes,” I said at last. “But pray, who is Trevellyan?”
“Ah, poor Trevellyan,” said my friend wistfully. “He was the loser in all of this. He had been selling tins of sweet corn around the towns and villages west of the Shannon for years, until these three reprobates tried to muscle in on his act. Poor man. When he woke up one morning to find his warehouse broken into and his total supply of sweet corn missing, he was so distraught that he got a blockage in his – what’s the name of that canal that runs through your body?”
“Alimentary?” I ventured.
“Alimentary, my dear Watson. Come we have no time to lose. We must alert Inspector Backwall of the Yard that a consignment of sweet corn is currently being stored near the River Mourne ready to be dumped in Strangford Lough.”
“But what about the code, old chap?”
“Its only a sniffle,” replied my friend impatiently and ran out of the door.

No comments: